Alex Brown, Simmons & Simmons grad recruitment partner

Simmons & Simmons’ graduate recruitment partner Alex Brown describes how email has completely transformed the speed at which deals are done

Firm: Simmons & Simmons

Department: Information, Communications & Technology

University: Cambridge (Sidney Sussex College)

Degree subject: Law

Hobbies: Golf (when that’s compatible with my other major pastime – spending time with my family – I have 2 small boys)

How long have you been a partner for? Since May 2007

Who/what inspired you to be lawyer? I come from a medical family so perhaps it was no surprise that I was looking to belong to a profession. I also had two uncles in the law in two quite different environments – one at a law firm in Newcastle and the other in San Francisco. A profession that could take you to seemingly exotic places (San Francisco, not Newcastle where I went to school!) was attractive.

What things did you wish you knew before embarking on a legal career?  It has been a little while since I embarked on my legal career….but one thing that wouldn’t be apparent to students is how many facets there are to being a lawyer. On top of your legal skills, you need to understand your client’s business, the functioning of your own business and you need to be able to relate to and empathise with a variety of different people.

What does your typical day involve? There isn’t really such a thing as a typical day.  Even a day that is mapped out with scheduled meetings and tasks can readily be diverted by unexpected client work or other things to manage.  It’s one of the things that make the job challenging and interesting.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job? Delivering difficult messages to people whether internally or externally and the more senior you become the more it becomes your responsibility to deliver those messages. Most people don’t enjoy confrontation so it can seem like the easier option to shy away from having difficult conversations with people. However, I believe in being straightforward with people and if delivered sensitively and constructively, difficult messages can deliver really positive results whether that is in someone’s personal performance or in a client relationship.

What has been the highlight of your legal career so far? Being promoted to the partnership. It was a proud moment and the support that I received in the run up to that and the warm reaction of others following my promotion really reinforced the strong sense of community that I feel exists at Simmons.

What are the best aspects of your job? Building relationships with clients and helping trainees and junior lawyers to develop their skills.

What are the worst aspects of your job?  Dealing with the occasional obstructive lawyer on the other side of a deal particularly if they are more interested in point scoring than being constructive.

What top tips would you give to students who want to break into the legal profession? Try to form a clear view of what type of law you want to practice.  Not what practice area you want to work in but what sort of firm would suit you. Look at the size of firm, its areas of focus and its locations and try to work out what matches your personality and objectives.

What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen candidates making?  Not asking themselves why they are giving the answer they are giving.  It is easy to say that you want to work in a large international firm, doing large-scale transactions for big businesses but candidates need to address why that appeals to them and what skills they have that lend themselves to that environment.

How has the legal market changed since the days you were a trainee?  One of the major differences is the nature of communication internally and with our clients.  When I started as a trainee email was only just starting to be used as a business communication tool. The use of email as the primary form of communication has accelerated the timescales associated with work so you have to remind yourself sometimes to step back and take time to think about something. 

What impact has the recession had on your firm? We have a broad practice base so we have had some natural hedges in our business against the effects of the recession. As a result I think that we have fared relatively well.

What three words best describe your firm?  Innovative (our MBA is the only one of its kind), inclusive and ambitious

Where did you go for your last holiday? France, on the shores of Lake Geneva

What gadget/gizmo would you be lost without? My iPhone